PUBLIC LIBRARY STAFF
COMPETENCIES-BASED STAFF DEVELOPMENT
Today’s public libraries require an educated, knowledgeable, and skilled staff, capable of learning and adapting to a constantly changing landscape. It is essential that managers budget for and actively pursue training and development opportunities that build their staff’s capacity to:
- Stay current with service demands and technology.
- Deliver quality library service.
- Position the library as a key player in the community.
At the same time, it is every staff member’s responsibility to take charge of his or her own learning and development. If you work in a public library, your success is dependent upon your willingness and commitment to stay current and be a self-directed learner. You are in the best position to know what you need to learn and where you need to develop. It is your responsibility to set and manage learning goals that address gaps in your skills and knowledge and/or advance you in the direction of career aspirations. While this work needs to be done in consultation with your manager or supervisor, it is, ultimately, your responsibility. Only you can decide you will learn.
According to Daniel Pink, best-selling author of Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, most of us are motivated by three intrinsic needs:
- The need for purpose.
- The need for autonomy.
- The need for mastery.
It is this need for mastery that motivates us to learn new skills and abilities that make us better at what we do. Check out this entertaining and informative TED talk with Daniel Pink.
While often used together, there is an important distinction between the terms ‘training’ and ‘development’. Training is any learning activity focused on acquiring specific knowledge or skills required for a particular job or task. For example, a training course on presentation skills is intended to teach you how to make effective presentations. Development is the continuous expansion of skills, knowledge and abilities aimed at long-term growth and career advancement.
The term ‘professional development’ refers to a full range of learning activities aimed at personal development and career advancement. It usually includes a mix of training and development and a blend of formal and informal learning activities.
For more about the distinction between the two, read this blog post, which equates the difference to that between today and tomorrow: The Difference Between Training and Development.
It is important that managers and staff understand that formal training is only one way of addressing gaps in skills or knowledge. Individuals also learn informally, experientially, on the job, with and from other people. In fact, there is growing support within the Human Resources profession and from a wide variety of organizations for a model of staff development known as the 70:20:10 model of development. It argues that experience accounts for 70% of a person’s work performance; networking with other people accounts for 20%; and formal training accounts for 10%. When you apply it to your own situation, the model posits that formal training accounts for very little of what you know, and that most of what you know about your job and your responsibilities comes from what you’ve learned on the job. While the numbers are not important, the model is a good reminder that formal training is only one avenue for staff development.
The underlying message of the 70:20:10 model is not to diminish the importance of formal training, but to advocate for the enhancement of formal training through other learning activities (see below for some examples). The best way to develop yourself in a particular area is to coordinate formal training with the opportunity to practice on the job, while also engaging in self-study activities like reading and self-assessments, and availing yourself of coaching, mentoring and/or peer support.
Some examples of informal learning activities include:
- Special projects and assignments designed to challenge you and stretch your abilities
- Job shadowing, rotations and secondments that invite learning by observing and experiencing new responsibilities
- One-on-one coaching and mentoring
- Peer learning/ Communities of practice
- Personal study projects that combine reading, consulting with others and coming to some conclusions; these projects typically result in the preparation of a paper or presentation
- Reading and/or viewing materials that expand your understanding of library and/or workplace issues, eg. TED talks, books, articles or websites on leadership, teamwork, creativity and innovation, motivation, conflict resolution, etc.
- Contributions to issues-based online discussions and/or face-to-face conversations with staff from other libraries
- Off-site visits to other libraries or other relevant service providers.
While it is your responsibility to take charge of your own learning and development, the library also has responsibilities. In addition to securing the funding for a training and development budget, the CEO and managers need to attend to individualised staff development of all employees, while also cultivating a learning environment across the organization. In organizations where learning is valued, there are ample opportunities to engage in conversations, share information and ideas, and learn together and from each other.
Your manager or supervisor should have a good sense of your abilities and believe in your potential. He or she should be able to recommend or suggest areas where you need to develop. This is often done as part of an annual performance review, but may also occur at other times of change for the organization, such as with a new strategic plan or the introduction of a new service.
You may or may not need help in mapping your learning path, but regardless, you do need your manager’s blessing and agreement to provide the necessary resources. This includes funding for training events, support for informal learning, and adequate time to learn and apply what you’ve learned.
"To maximize training’s effectiveness, good managers require the individual to teach the main points, key concepts, or critical techniques to a group of colleagues immediately upon return. Sharing the learning maximises the investment that the organization makes in the individual. More important, anyone who attends a training program knowing that he’s going to have to sift the wheat from the chaff and then serve the wheat to a group of colleagues will be a far more active participant in the learning process.
- Dick Grote, Creating Development Plans That Actually Work"
Ultimately, the best way your manager or supervisor will help you grow and develop is by creating learning opportunities that provide you with challenging work, coaching you through problem situations, providing the formal training you need, giving you ongoing feedback on your performance, and recognising your improvements and accomplishments.
As well, you should have access to other people in the organization who can help you grow and develop. This is an important discussion to have with your manager or supervisor.
One of the significant differences between young people and adult learners is that adult learners tend to want a degree of control over their learning. Their learning is often situational, arising from something they are going through. They want the freedom and flexibility to learn exactly what they need to learn and be able to apply it to the particulars of their situation. Choice is important to adult learners.
Adult learners also tend to benefit from experiential, hands-on learning opportunities. Most adult learners, keen to apply their learning, have little interest in theory.
In addition to understanding yourself as an adult learner, it can be helpful to identify your dominant learning style. In the most commonly used model, learners are identified as having one of three preferences:
- Visual (learning by seeing)
- Auditory (learning by hearing)
- Kinaesthetic (learning by doing)
For an explanation of each, along with strategies for optimal learning, read this brief introduction for students provided by the University of Western Ontario’s Student Development Centre.
David Kolb, an educational theorist, studied learning and discovered that every learner goes through four phases:
- We experience something new;
- We reflect on that experience;
- We generalise to other situations based on our reflection and experience;
- We apply what we have generalised and come to understand.
Understanding the necessity of reflecting on experience and giving yourself time to do so can enhance your ability to learn.
The most important thing to understand about learning is that it is something we can all do. Recent neuroscience research on the functioning of the human brain indicates that it is, in fact, remarkably pliable. This means that even in our adult years, we can change our brain by learning something new. In effect, we can change what we know. According to Stanford University psychologist and researcher, Carol Dweck, the major factor in successful achievement of a goal (and success in life) is the person’s belief in the possibility of improving their abilities through effort, perseverance and resilience.
In her groundbreaking book, Mindset, Dweck identifies two mindsets that are polar opposites to one another. People with the fixed mindset believe that their basic abilities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits and cannot be developed. They do not believe in effort. People with the growth mindset believe that their basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. They not only believe in effort, they develop a love of learning and a resilience that pushes them to keep trying. Virtually, all successful people have a growth mindset.
Suddenly we realized that there were two meanings to ability, not one: a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning.
Carol S. Dweck, Mindset
The good news is that, according to Dweck, it is possible to change from a fixed to a growth mindset. For more information, see Dweck’s website. You might even want to read her book!
Competencies are the skills, abilities and knowledge necessary for successful individual job performance and the successful achievement of organizational outcomes. They provide a common language with which to describe the range of work that happens in public libraries. The SOLS Competencies Index describes dozens of competencies related to every aspect of public library work organized into five categories:
Most public library staff would have to consult at least three of the categories to develop a comprehensive competencies profile to match all of their responsibilities. A few sample profiles are available as starting points for the process of developing a profile. The value of having such a profile is that it provides an excellent overview of the scope of responsibilities assigned to a particular position. This can be very helpful for purposes of recruitment, orientation, and succession planning.
For purposes of training and development, a competencies profile is helpful but not necessary. The SOLS Competencies Index can assist greatly in planning for training and development by helping individuals and their managers identify gaps that indicate areas for improvement. Browsing the index offers an excellent opportunity to find language that describes the skills, abilities and knowledge in need of development. Those competencies can then be used to focus training and development efforts, utilising both formal and informal learning strategies to facilitate real and lasting staff development.
Organizations sometimes declare that certain skills, abilities and knowledge are universally important throughout the organization and, therefore, deemed to be core competencies. This means that everyone in the organization, regardless of position, needs to achieve competence in these areas. Within the SOLS Competencies Index, the Personal/Interpersonal category and the Technology Core Competencies skill set are recommended as worthy candidates for core competencies. However, it is ultimately a local decision and, therefore, up to each library’s management to determine which core competencies will best advance the library in achieving its mission and vision.
Core competencies do not automatically become learning priorities for all staff, as some staff will inevitably already be competent. Which core competencies you need to develop is an important conversation to have with your manager or supervisor.
While there is an argument to be made that workplace learning should be continuous and a regular part of every work day, there is great value in periodically assessing your learning needs and developing a plan to address those needs. An annual or semi-annual assessment and planning process allows you to be strategic about finding ways to address your learning priorities. It typically happens as part of an annual performance review, though there are some who believe it should be done semi-annually or even quarterly. Those who advocate for a shorter time period, argue that it allows for sharper focus, leading to a better chance of relevant learning and the successful application of that learning.
Regardless of the time period you choose, focus is important. While it may be tempting to come up with a dozen competencies you would like to develop, it is unrealistic to think you can work on learning that many things at once. You will be far more successful with your learning objectives if you focus your efforts on no more than four (4) competencies in any given year. This may seem too modest an undertaking but, in reality, learning takes time. It’s not simply a matter of attending a one-day workshop, for example. For real learning to take place, you need time to be introduced to the new content (the workshop), time to work with that content, consult with others, reflect on its importance and application, and, ultimately, practise doing something different as a result of your learning.